Living through COVID-19 has taught us jarred foods are an absolute kitchen pantry essential.
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They're easy to store, help prevent frequent trips to the grocery store and make whipping up nutritional meals that much easier.
However, if that's not enough to get you on the jarred food bandwagon, Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table, says that jarred foods also have the added advantage of transparency.
"I love that jars are transparent so that you can see the foods within," Taub-Dix says. "Jars enable you to pick your produce, even when it's not fresh."
But while jarred foods do allow faster meal prep, Taub-Dix advises checking your jarred food labels carefully before you buy, as you'll want to be mindful of expiration dates, sugar and salt levels.
"You'll still need to check the ingredient list on jarred foods to see if it's packed with more sugar than you're expecting," she explains. "Just as a frame of reference: One packet of sugar has four grams of sugar."
Simiarly, Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, says you'll also want to be on the lookout for jarred foods that have a high sodium content, as some jarred items tend to have higher salt levels than others. FYI, the American Heart Association recommends getting no more 2,300 milligrams of salt daily.
To help beef up your kitchen pantry, we rounded up the best healthiest jarred foods you probably haven't tried before, and tasty ways to use them.
1. Artichoke Hearts
You can buy artichoke hearts quartered (or whole), jarred in brine (plain) or marinated in an oil and herb solution, says Georgie Fear, RDN, CSSD.
And yes, marinated artichoke hearts can add some mouth-watering flavors to your salads and antipasto dishes. However, Fear advises being mindful of these kinds of artichokes, as they often contain more calories than their non-marinated counterparts.
"In any form, artichoke hearts are a great source of fiber and are an excellent addition to salads, pizzas or pasta dishes," she explains. "However, marinated artichoke hearts are still rather oily after draining, so they have more calories and fat than the plain versions."
To avoid packing on extra calories, you'll want to rinse off your artichokes thoroughly before you use them. Here are some serving ideas to keep in mind.
- Whip up some spinach and artichoke dip
- Sprinkle some grated cheese on top of your artichokes for a light and flavorful snack
- Add them to protein-packed salad dishes
- Incorporate them into savory cauliflower quiche recipes
- Place them on top of homemade pizza dishes
2. Hearts of Palm
Like artichoke hearts, hearts of palm can add some taste and texture to your meals. Rania Batayneh, MPH, suggests they are a cross between asparagus and artichoke hearts, as they contain a crunchy yet soft in texture and are slightly nutty in flavor.
Plus, they are rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin C, iron, phosophorous and zinc.
To bring hearts of palm to your plate, try these serving ideas below:
- Add them to tropical-inspired lunch salads
- Pan-fry, grill or roast them alongside other proteins and vegetables
- Create Latin-inspired dishes like arroz con palmito or empanadas
- Shred or add them to crab cakes or ceviche
- Simmer them in a sauce to be used as a taco filling
3. Pickled Beets
Hartley advises adding some jarred pickled beets to your pantry, as they can jazz up any meal in seconds.
"I love to use pickled beets because not only are they a flavor booster, but can also be used as a fully cooked and seasoned side dish," Hartley says. "Beets also contain dietary nitrates, which can help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow."
To add some pickled beets to your workweek meals, try these serving ideas below:
- Enjoy as a side dish (or snack!) warmed or chilled
- Use them in summer salads
- Blend them with cheeses to make a flavorful party dip
- Serve with grilled seafood or other proteins
A Pickled Beets Recipe
If you aren't familiar with kimchi, it is a staple ingredient in Korean cuisine that is made by fermenting vegetables (napa cabbage) with gochugaru (Korean chili pepper), garlic, scallions and often a fermented fish sauce, Hartley explains.
From a culinary standpoint, kimchi is a great example of a tasty flavor booster that can add a hint of spiciness to a variety of dishes (much like pickled beets).
"Kimchi can be added to salads, tacos, grain bowls and sandwiches, and can be used cooked in stir-fries, rice and noodle dishes," she adds. "Nutritionally, as a fermented food, kimchi is also a great source of beneficial probiotic bacteria."
In addition to probiotics, kimchi is linked with antioxidant, antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic and antihypertensive activities in the body, per a 2017 study published in Fermented Foods in Health and Disease Prevention.
To arm you with some kimchi serving inspiration, try these meal ideas below:
- Whip up some kimchi salsa
- Make kimchi deviled eggs as a snack
- Create kimchi lettuce cups
- Add kimchi to ramen dishes
- Incorporate kimchi to homemade grain bowls
5. Unsweetened Applesauce
Another jarred food item Fear recommends having on hand is unsweetened applesauce. It can be easily added to baking recipes, enjoyed over pancakes or eaten alone with a dash of cinnamon.
"If you enjoy baking, you can use applesauce in place of half the oil in any muffin, brownie or banana bread recipe to cut down on fat and calories," Fear suggests.
"You can also enjoy applesauce warmed in the microwave (with a sprinkle of cinnamon) for a sweet dessert, or use it to top pancakes instead of maple syrup."
Yummy serving ideas aside, unsweetened applesauce also has nutritional benefits you won't want to miss. Apples are rich in phytochemicals (such as quercetin, catechin and phloridzin) that have been linked to reduced risk of some cancers, asthma and diabetes, per a May 2004 study in Nutrition Journal.
6. Roasted Red Peppers
Roasted red peppers may provide your pasta dishes, salads and hummus dips with some savory flavor, but these peppers also bring major nutrition to your plate.
Red peppers are one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables you can eat, as they contain up to 30 different antioxidants, per the Cleveland Clinic. Similarly, red peppers help increase calcium levels (thanks to potassium) and neutralize free radicals in the body.
Plus, jarred roasted red peppers is that they are relatively low in fat and calories, says Fear. However, she stresses the importance of reading your product labels carefully.
"All roasted red peppers are pretty low in fat and calories, though some may have small amounts of sugar, while others don't," Fear explains.
Here are some scrumptious ways you can use red peppers:
- Scramble them in vegan and non-vegan omelettes
- Stuff them with goat cheese and shelled pistachios
- Add them into creamy soups
- Grill them with meat or veggie kabobs
- Place them on top of homemade pizza dishes
- Cook them with meat and vegetables for a quick lunch or dinner
Roasted Red Pepper Recipes
Aside from bringing some amazing flavor to your go-to salad, spreads and pasta dishes, Batayneh says that olives are known for their stellar nutritional benefits.
Olives are an excellent source of healthy monounsaturated fats, which can help lower your LDL cholesterol levels, according to the U.S. Library of National Medicine. "In addition to healthy fats, olives are a great source of vitamin E and antioxidants as well," she says.
Batayneh warns that jarred olives can be high in sodium, as they're often cured or preserved in a brine. And while all of the sodium can't be removed, she recommends rinsing your olives a few times to bring the sodium count down a bit.
To get creative with your olives, try these serving ideas below:
- Combine chopped tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, parsley and feta cheese with either kalamata or castelvetrano olives for a quick summer dish
- Try a Moroccan tagine (a braised, stew-like dish) made from either poultry, meat, fish or vegetables plus sweet and savory ingredients like preserved lemon, dried fruits and olives
- Add them to your Mediterranean Mezze platter
- Include them in a Mason jar salad
- Fermented Foods in Health and Disease Prevention: "Kimchi"
- Nutrition Journal: "Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits"
- Cleveland Clinic: "The Amazing Health Benefits of Red Peppers"
- U.S. Library of National Medicine: "Facts about monounsaturated fats"
- American Heart Association: "How much sodium should I eat per day?"